What to Do When Your Spouse Won’t Change and WW Linkup!

Right Thing

With the new year, comes the fall-out from the holiday season. We often overeat, over-drink, overwork and overdo it in just about every conceivable way during that time of year. So January is the prime time to regroup and commit to new and positive changes that bring relief to our out-of-shape lives.

I’m mostly a practical minded person and love a good “step-by-step” plan to get me going in the right direction. Although I also feel that some “to-do lists” fall short of making the lasting changes that really need to take place in our hearts. So I will be focusing on the heart change that must also be part of this process in upcoming posts in the next few weeks. But for today, I’m focusing on the “nuts and bolts” of how to respond differently or more positively towards our mates in times of conflict and hurt.

If there’s one thing that I’ve become convinced of in my 27 years of marriage {gulp! Yes, that number takes my breath away too folks!}, it’s that I am not responsible for my spouse’s right or wrong choices. The moment I feel like I can change him or control what he does, is the moment I’m entering “La-La Land” and heading straight for frustration and disappointment—a place no one wants to stay.

So what’s a spouse to do when her husband or his wife won’t “cooperate” or “get with the program”?

Do the next right thing . . . that is OUR own responsibility!


That means we will avoid doing our spouse’s responsibility. Although there may be times when we will have to step in and shoulder this . . . it’s often much more the exception than the rule.

So today, I’m including a printable chart here that considers several challenging scenarios in marriage with specific, measurable ways you can “do your part” and not feel helpless when and if your spouse won’t do their part. I hope you’ll use this to remind yourself of what that next right thing might look like or you can copy and paste it and revise it to fit your custom desires and preferences.


What makes it hard for you to do the next right thing in marriage or life?


Joining with my friends at  Works for Me Wednesday,  Wifey Wednesday,  Coffee and Conversation,  Wholehearted Wednesday,  Whimsical Wednesday, and Simply Said Mom.

Now it’s time for Wedded Wednesday …

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Messy Marriage

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  1. I appreciate that your chart really focuses on prayer – and prayer FIRST! I have found that always helps MY heart attitude get right.

    • Yes, prayer has become a very important part of my life and my first line of defense when dealing with my own marriage issues or helping people with theirs, Aimee. I’ve seen what God can do whenever prayer happens. No “to-do” list comes close! 🙂

  2. bluecottonmemory says:

    I think that is one of the most important lessons in a healthy marriage – to let your husband be who he is. There’s a difference between iron sharpening iron and “redecorating” your spouse to turn them into something they are not. One of my prayers when I’m frustrated because people aren’t getting with the program is that God show me what I need to see about the situation – and if my husband’s eyes need to be opened to open them. I often discover that I’m the one that needs my eyes opened more. What a wonderful topic to start the new year off with! Happy New Year, Beth!

    • Oh yes, I’m right there with you, Maryleigh. Even if my husband is clearly in the wrong, when I pray about the situation, God reveals the ways I’ve negatively contributed. So I never feel “helpless” to change things, when I can yield to God and change myself. Thanks for your kind words, my friend and Happy New Year to you too!

  3. I love that you’ve included the prayer to soften my spouse’s heart. I pray this as a rule whenever my husband hurts my feelings. He doesn’t usually even realize he’s done it – so I pray for God to move in ways that I cannot!

    • Yes, Jesus is our Defender–even when He must defend us against our spouse. The funny thing is, He’s also our husband’s Defender. That’s when things get really interesting! 😉 Hugs to you, Becky!

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser says:

    It’s good to see you again! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s Day!

    Great post, and the checklist is outstanding. I hope it goes into a lot of diaries, and onto a lot of refrigerator doors. More the latter; this should be in the open air.

    Interesting post for me, because this is something of a bone of contention in our home. My life has turned into a no-holds-barred survival situation, and it’s changed me. A lot.

    Barbara has accepted most of the changes – I don’t laugh, and smile rarely, and find nothing funny in most comedy, for instance.

    But she has a hard time with my rather brutal attitude toward myself; to me, signs of infirmity are a personal affront, and I’ll simply push harder. It’s partly nature, and partly training,because combat gives no sick days.

    She hates that, and wants me to be a bit more normal, to relax into the pain and accept that it limits me.

    I tried, but it was very destructive to my morale, and morale is about all I have left. I’d like to be able to say that hugs and shared tears are a benison, but they’re not. This is my battle, and I may, in truth, find more in the fight than I do in love itself.

    Terrible thing to say, eh?

    But I’m going there to illustrate a point, that things that look like they may be easily changed run straight to the core, to a place darker and deeper than the roots of the marriage itself.

    It doesn’t invalidate the marriage, and it doesn’t nullify love. We are created by God first, and we are NOT created solely for our spouse. We’re made to fulfill a wider mission.


    • Thanks for your kind words, Andrew. I can certainly see how being in constant pain like you are, changes you in ways that those of us who are not in that kind of pain or facing death might be able to understand. You are a fighter and I can tell that it has been what has helped to sustain you in this battle. I still pray for you daily and hope that you find diversions that encourage you as well as feeling God’s comfort surrounding you each day, my friend!

  5. Love the chart, you made some great points! In our premarital counseling our counselor gave us the challenge to not “own each other’s feelings”. There have definitely been times I have owned my husband’s feelings as my own and taken unnecessary burden on myself (and vice versa) but I am learning that when we focus on ourselves and what we can change we are much better spouses and generally happier people. 🙂 As always, love seeing your blog.

    • That’s so true, Summer. When we are in a close relationship like a marriage, it’s easy to let our feelings get “entangled” with each other. After all, what our spouse does or doesn’t do impacts us for the good or bad. So it’s hard not to take bad choices personally since they personally impact us! 🙂 Thanks for adding to the discussion and joining the linkup, my friend!

  6. It is all about the heart changes in order to make a lasting change. I know that God will lead us if we surrender our hearts to Him in the process. Your list is practical and functional and focuses on God as the center of the relationship. I actually read this list and thought of my one son who is in a relationship that is not always based on God-centered love. I pray for both of them daily.

    I hope you had a restful holiday and I look forward to hanging out here in the New Year! Hugs friend!

    • Yes, it truly is about heart change, Mary. And since you are aware of how your son is probably being hurt in a “person-centered” relationship, you may also realize the extreme difficulty of doing a “to-do” list. I worried that there might be those in desperate situations feeling like I’m suggesting a “band-aid” to a gaping wound. I just hope that people look past that “to-do” label and see that much of the list is about doing what invites and encourages “heart change.” And I will also add that even if only one spouse demonstrates the “heart change” consistently, the relationship will be “changed.” Something/someone has changed in the dynamic and that can often be the beginning of a heart change for the other spouse. Thanks so much for your kindness to me, my friend and you have a great New Year too!

  7. Happy New year Beth! Praise God for His mercies!
    This is a very straight to the point post, and one thing that makes it difficult is listening to the cries of the flesh instead of the promptings of The Holy Spirit.
    I believe doing the right things always is a seed that will bring forth fruits if we do not faint.

    • Yes, our flesh does NOT LIKE to be inconvenienced, injured or insulted, Ugochi. But our Lord laid down His life for us, so that’s the least that we can do for others! And you are so right about the Holy Spirit’s convictions being like a seed that bears good fruit. We all need to let the Lord do a little “gardening” in our hearts, my friend! Thanks so much for your encouragement in this space!

  8. I am with you on changing the way my goals look for this year… I am a to do list person and this year they are not things I can just cross off.
    Thank you for sharing the document that is especially helpful! 🙂

    • Yes, sometimes the best goals are ones that are ongoing and never really can be crossed off, Stasia. I’ve seen your blog post about last years goals and you are very ambitious but that’s the best way to be! We should never tire of doing what is right or good when we have the Lord to empower and direct our steps! Thanks so much for joining the conversation, my friend!

  9. Thanks so much for hosting the linkup. Thanks too for such a practical post on marriage and the printable you included.

  10. I stopped reading when I got to your words “step-by-step plan” & “to-do” lists & had to open my Bible back to a verse I read earlier this morning >>> “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.” (Prov. 16:3, NLT). As we use the wonderful printable, may we faithfully commit to pray for both ourselves & our spouses to change & become more like Him in 2015. Blessings!

    • Yes, Joanne, committing any plan we have to the Lord is crucial! I think that’s why prayer is so foundational to all we ever hope to accomplish. Thanks for your encouragement, my friend! Blessings to you as well!

  11. Thank you for this reminder! I know for me it is something that I struggle with, but maybe in a little different sense. We make goals and plans that effect our future. We have to do’s or daily disciplines that will help get us to where we want to be. But if he is not doing his part it causes a lot of internal conflict for me. How many reminders do I give before it becomes nagging? Why is he not doing his part? Does he not really want this? Does he expect me to be able to do this on my own. Etc. I am learning that I can not make him do those things, but instead he has to want to do them himself. Thank you for your post today!

    • Yes, there truly is that “fine line” we all encounter and very often can’t see when we’ve crossed over it. I think the moment I feel anger in my heart is the moment I need to take a step back and pray–surrendering it to the Lord, Cassie. I’m not saying I do this all the time or perfectly by any means! But I think it’s a good indicator of when prayer is the right course and reminding our spouse is not. You are wise to realize that you can’t make him do “the good”–no matter how hurtful that may be to you and your marriage. That’s where God in His mysterious grace brings redemption and refines our hearts to be more like His. Hugs to you and thanks for your authentic sharing in this space. It makes me like you all the more (and I liked you a lot before that!). 🙂

  12. Hello sweet friend. I do love your words today. Hubby and I are marriage mentors at our church and the one key thing he loves to remind couples about is the essential focus on the heart change. He emphasizes that alot when he’s teaching bible classes as well. It is critical in everything we do, and is integral in our own relationship with the Lord. I love the resource you shared also, it is spot on. I think you should turn it into an extra freebie on your blog, to encourage others to sign up…just sayin’ 🙂

    • I’m not surprised that you and your hubs are mentors. I bet you have much that will be learned in this painful season you are going through that will help other couples immensely, Nicki! Yes, heart change is the key to any “strategy” we may try to put in place. If our motive is to get something back from our “to-do’s” then our plan will fail. It must be an act of obedience and faith in our Lord every single time we give to and/or forgive our mates. I like your idea about turning it into an extra freebie, Nicki! I may just add that to my list of “to-do’s” for this blog–which is still quite long, so it may be a while before it shows up! 😉 Hugs to you, sister!

  13. JosephPote says:

    “I am not responsible for my spouse’s right or wrong choices.”
    So true! I am also not responsible for my spouses emotions…happiness, unhappiness, anger, etc.
    Yes, I am responsible for always acting toward her in love, for trying to understand her perspective, for being empathetic toward her struggles, for trying to communicate clearly and lovingly, etc..
    But all of those are my being responsible TO my spouse, not FOR my spouse. The difference is subtle yet significant.
    Thank you, Beth, for another great post!

    • I think the bottom line is that it seems easier in the moment to take responsibility “for” our spouse instead of for our own choices/thoughts, Joe. We already feel “in pain” when our spouse hurts us, so why do something that means absorbing our spouse’s painful insults/behaviors? And by “absorbing” I mean forgiving and trusting God to keep our hearts soft toward our spouses. All that to say, it feels counterintuitive. But that’s our mysterious God who cannot be fathomed or understood by any of us. Thanks so much for your encouraging words here, my friend!

  14. I just love your marriage posts, Beth. Such great wisdom and tools for couples to take away. Also love what Joe commented with below. These can be such pitfalls with new marriages.

    • Awww, thanks so much for your encouragement, Kim. You must have the “gift of encouragement” as a spiritual gift because you always say things in just the right way that blesses my heart! Thanks, sweet friend!

  15. Owning our own as grown-ups in marriage is a vital key to success. But it does depend on our hearts, as does everything in life, for God always watches our hearts and their motivation. So we surrender our hearts and keep them surrendered unto Jesus. And that is when change comes and change stays. Great words as usual, Beth.

    • Yes, heart change is definitely the key, Sheila. And surrender is the “act” that helps to turn that key in the ignition of our hearts–with God fueling the engine. Hugs to you, my friend!

  16. Kind of a freeing thing when we stop trying to be responsible for everyone else and focus on making choices that are wise, sane, and life-giving.
    Welcome back, friend! You’ve been missed!

    • Oh yes, Linda! Little do we know how freeing it is because we’re so fearful of “letting it go to the Lord.” But He always has our back, so I don’t know why we resist! Hugs to you, sweet girlfriend!

  17. Yes it’s true we cannot be responsible for ourselves AND our spouse. And the thing about our so called responsibility–it just turns into being a nagging mother, not a loving wife.

    • Yes, it does, Jenny! It does indeed! And nagging, if prolonged, is like poison to a marriage. It embitters everyone. Thanks for stopping by and weighing in, my friend!

  18. I looked and looked and couldn’t find the words “nag” or “remind over and over” anywhere in your chart! 🙂 I joke, but seriously I need to print that out and keep it in front of me. Or simply remember to pray, pray, pray for him no matter what we’re facing!

    • Ha! Yes, if I were making a chart of what I’ve done (more than I’d like to admit) that doesn’t work, nagging would be a central theme. Why do we do what we know doesn’t work? Maybe because it feels good in the moment, but it’s so very toxic for our marriages, isn’t it? Thanks for your encouragement and kind words, my friend!

  19. Jacqueline@Deeprootsathome.com says:

    I am so sorry I missed this link-up, BUT I did find your post to be excellent! I hope to be back soon. I hadn’t planned to share this link, but I love the topic of how to love and live with our husbands: http://www.deeprootsathome.com/the-best-gift-for-any-husband/
    Blessings! I’d love an email invite sent to deeprootsathome@gmail.com Thanks!

    • I’m so glad you did, Jacqueline! Thanks for your encouraging words and I’ve got you added to my email reminders for the linkup! Looking forward to having you join us!


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